Last updated: August 26, 2019
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
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Could you be part of the approximately 10 % of women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome? Check out 10 common PCOS symptoms.
PCOS is common, can affect your fertility and overall health. In many cases, women are affected by PCOS and don’t even know it.
It is important for your overall health and wellness to be on the lookout for PCOS symptoms. The following may help you decide if you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It is the most common endocrine disorder among women in their childbearing years. While PCOS if often associated with infertility, PCOS can affect girls as young as 11 years old.
It is actually the leading cause of infertility among women. While it is generally believed that PCOS affects around 10 % of the female population, one study suggested the actual number may be closer to 24%.
PCOS may be closely tied with a woman’s ability to become pregnant, it can also affect their overall health and cause some unpleasant symptoms. It is essential for women to understand more about PCOS, even if they do not plan on becoming pregnant.
PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance within the female body. When a larger amount of male hormones are produced within the female body it can disrupt the delicate balance necessary for normal female reproductive cycles.
When a woman has PCOS, a large amount of androgen testosterone is produced. PCOS will affect the ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for producing eggs. In order to get pregnant an egg needs to be released and then inseminated by a male to be implanted in the uterine wall.
The ovaries are also responsible for producing estrogen and progesterone. These two regulate the menstrual cycle. The ovaries will also normally produce a small amount of androgen which is the male hormone.
Changes to the Ovaries
PCOS causes the ovaries to overproduce androgens. This can cause the eggs to only be released sporadically or not at all. When the egg fails to release the woman does not have a monthly period and is unable to get pregnant. With PCOS a woman can skip her period for months at a time. Ovulation can be spontaneous. This makes it very difficult to conceive.
The reason that the ovaries fail to produce an egg is that they do not fully mature. This is because the hormone imbalance causes the ovaries to become filled with fluid rich sacs. In fact, Polycystic literally means ‘many cysts’.
While the name may indicate many cysts, sacs are actually follicles which contain immature eggs.These eggs are not able to develop enough to trigger ovulation.
Without regular ovulation the levels of estrogen and progesterone are altered. Along with these hormones, follicle stimulating hormone as well as the luteinizing hormone (both which control ovulation) are affected.
Is There a Cure for PCOS?
There is no cure for this serious women’s health issue, but taking healthy action could decrease PCOS symptoms. As common as this condition is many more women have PCOS and do not know it. One study estimated about 70 % of women who have PCOS are undiagnosed.
This hormonal imbalance can cause adverse effects on your overall health and may become the cause of health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. .
Even though there is no treatment for PCOS, there are many natural approaches to treating the symptoms of PCOS. Check out these 10 common symptoms.
PCOS Symptom 1: Irregular Menstrual Cycles
A normal menstrual cycle is the body’s way of preparing itself for a potential pregnancy. Each cycle consists of ovulation and menstruation. During ovulation an egg or eggs are released from the ovaries and travel through the fallopian tubes for potential insemination. If the egg becomes inseminated by a male partner it may implant into the uterus to further develop into an embryo, fetus and then a baby.
If the egg is not inseminated or fails to implant it will be discharged along with the lining of the uterus through the vagina as a period.
The first day of bleeding during your cycle is day one.This should last about 3-5 days, but may be shorter or longer depending on your body’s natural rhythm.
Ovulation occurs around day 14. The absence of a period is usually one of the first indications of pregnancy. Many cycles last about a month but anything from 21 to 35 days is normal. What is most important is to learn what is normal for you so you can let your doctor know about any major changes.
With PCOS the absence of a period is one of the three main symptoms of this condition. This is because the imbalance of hormones within the body make it difficult for eggs to develop enough to get released. Ovulation is often spontaneous and irregular. In some cases, your monthly period may be prolonged.
One way to know if your cycle is irregular is to track it. Keeping track of your monthly cycle is an easy way to know when to expect your period. It can also help you to know when you are ovulating and provide important information to your doctor about irregular menstrual cycles.
PCOS Symptom 2: Persistent Adult Acne
While many women (and men!) may suffer from adult acne, they may not recognize it as a symptom of PCOS.
PCOS may be more commonly associated with fertility issues, it can also cause a whole host of symptoms associated with your appearance.
The imbalance of hormones within the body can cause sudden and severe acne breakouts.. If you have been struggling with adult acne that does not respond to traditional treatments you may want to chat with a doctor about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
PCOS Symptom 3: Absence of a Period
In addition to irregular menstrual cycles, PCOS can also cause your period to stop completely. The absence of a period is known as amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea is when the woman has never experienced a period. Secondary amenorrhea is when the woman has had normal periods in the past but no longer experiences menses.
PCOS can cause amenorrhea because the hormone imbalance in the body causes the ovaries to become full of follicles. These follicles do not allow the eggs to fully mature and release to cause ovulation.
Without regular ovulation many women are not able to get pregnant without intervention.
PCOS Symptom 4: Excess Hair Growth in Odd Places
An excess of body or facial hair can be a difficult task for anyone to overcome, but it can be especially difficult for women in many areas of the world. While excess body hair may be more culturally accepted in some areas of the globe, in many areas of the world women spend lots of time, energy and money to be as hair-free as possible.
Unfortunately due to the hormonal imbalance that causes PCOS, women afflicted with this condition could find themselves with extra hair popping up on their face and body. This can include excessive hair growth on your upper lip, chin, and other odd places you normally don’t see hair growth.
These symptoms can adversely affect your self esteem and body image. While there is no cure for PCOS, there are ways to treat the symptoms. Connect with a doctor to see what treatment options may be available for you.
PCOS Symptom 5: Hair Loss
While you may suddenly be sporting a mustache on your upper lip, you may also notice that you are losing hair in other places. Women with PCOS may notice hair on the pillow, excess hair loss in the shower or after brushing.
Women with PCOS can often experience thinning hair and even bald patches. This is because while an excess of male hormones can cause hair growth in other areas, it also negatively affects the scalp.
PCOS Symptom 6: Fertility Issues
Getting pregnant with PCOS is a challenge and if you and your partner have been trying to get pregnant and can’t, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome could be to blame.
PCOS can cause menstrual cycles to become irregular. Women can go for months without a menstrual cycle. Spontaneous ovulation makes it difficult for couples to take advantage of fertile windows.
PCOS Symptom 7: Issues with Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Are you struggling to lose weight? Between 40 and 80% of women who suffer from PCOS were reported to be overweight or obese.
Obesity is closely tied with hormone issues. This is because the hormones in our body determine our appetite, metabolism and fat distribution. When you are obese your hormone levels will also encourage the accumulation of body fat.
Obesity is a major cause of insulin resistance. Obesity combined with insulin resistance greatly increases the likelihood of developing type 2 Diabetes.
PCOS Symptom 8: Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
This PCOS symptom is one that baffles even doctors. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has been linked to insulin resistance, which will cause your blood sugar levels to spike.
Although the exact reason is unknown, up to 70 % of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance occurs when the cells are unable to properly produce insulin. The pancreas produces insulin to help your body absorb sugar from food. When this is not absorbed properly, the demand for insulin from the body is increased. Overproduction of insulin has been linked to a spike in the production of male hormones.
If you are healthy, but are showing symptoms of diabetes or pre-diabetic symptoms you may have PCOS. Ignoring these symptoms could cause full-blown diabetes. It is important to connect with a doctor to proactively monitor your health.
PCOS Symptom 9: Skin Discoloration and Skin Tags
It is important to pay close attention to any changes in the skin. While most are concerned with the possibility of skin cancer, PCOS can also show skin symptoms.
These symptoms are secondary, meaning that they are caused by insulin resistance rather than the PCOS itself. Since so many women are unaware they are even suffering from PCOS (about 70 % of women who have PCOS are undiagnosed) it is important to recognize all the possible signs and symptoms.
Acanthosis nigricans is caused by spikes in insulin resistance. The skin can become discolored in the folds appearing on the forehead, breast, neck, thighs and groin.
Skin tags are also associated with PCOS. While skin tags may not be dangerous on their own, they can be a signal that there is something going on much deeper within the body.
PCOS Symptom 10: Mental Health Issues
PCOS does not only affect your physical health, but it can also have a negative impact on your mental health as well.
Fertility issues can put a lot of stress on your relationship, both emotionally and financially.
The physical symptoms associated with PCOS can cause a severe dip in self esteem and may cause depression.
If you are suffering from PCOS you may want to consider speaking to a mental health professional to safeguard your mental health.
What Can you do About PCOS Symptoms?
While there is no cure for PCOS, there are many interventions that can help ease your symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
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